When Real Life & Fiction Collide

I’m not the kind of writer who brandishes the threat, “You might be in my next novel.” It’s not that I have any problem with it — that Joe Buckley thing is hilarious — but it’s just not my thing. I feel weird appropriating the people and situations I know.

I actively have trouble using real places, because then I feel an intense pressure to get everything right. I’ve got no trouble making details up on the fly. This town has an indoor pool! This town has a series of underground tunnels! These are cool when I’ve invented a town and there are no real-life rules to follow.

Real world example!

I was living in Manhattan, Kansas, when I was working on my first novel. Every day I used to drive home from work on Anderson, and I’d pass a street called “Edgerton.” I thought to myself That’s a cool name for a town. My main character should be from Edgerton, Wisconsin. Cool. I make up a town and set two chapters in it. I move on with my life. Good times.

Fast forward several years later, because this is a blog post and blog time is like that. My husband and I are driving up visit my family in Wisconsin. I happen to be skimming the atlas while we’re driving, and what should I see?

Are — is the world fucking serious right now?!

I ranted and swore while my husband laughed his ass off, and I set it on the back burner until we got home. Then I took to Google Earth, trying to get the feel for the place to see if I could make this work with my existing story. I couldn’t, partially because I couldn’t get over that my made up town really existed.

Then I decided that I might as well set the novel in the places I live. What the hell — why not? I know the roads, I have the routes, I know places to hang out and get laid and look at the stars at midnight. So I gave it a shot.

Epic failure.

I like the idea. I love when shows and movies and books are set in the places I live — except when it’s done poorly. I am, as a writer, plagued by the idea of doing it poorly. When you do good, it’s good. When you do poorly, it quickly becomes the most notable feature of your story. More than once I’ve wanted to send authors a quick message: Hey, Lawrence has a university you know.

Ashley M. Hill found her voice in science fiction when her curiosity about technology coupled with the lifelong urge to tell stories. Her interest in social and feminist issues shapes how she approaches the genre. She's pursuing computer and network repair for her day job.


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